Anecdotal Report on the Incidence of Forced Marriage in Western Canada
This study has investigated the anecdotal incidence of forced marriage in Western Canada and found that not only are there a number of cases of forced marriage involving Canadians, but that according to some of the service providers interviewed, such incidents appears to be increasing. While the investigation is confined to Western Canada, its findings are likely to be relevant to other parts of Canada where forced marriage takes place.
Our research shows that as forced marriage is a very sensitive issue it remains a hidden reality in Canada. Hence, it is not easy to identify. As this issue is little known, no services or preventive programs were found to exist specifically for victims of forced marriage. We conclude that there is a gap in available services. Those which are available are under the domestic violence category. The stories clearly show that these services did provide very good support to the victims within the limitations of the resources and skills of the agencies. There appear to be no services or supports available for those threatened with a forced marriage before it has occurred. Many service providers mentioned that their agencies are not fully equipped to deal with all the needs of their clients.
From the findings on forced marriage we conclude that forced marriage is a complex issue in Western Canada involving a number of factors. There are three main factors that combine to sanction and prepare the ground for forced marriage:
- patriarchal culture and authoritarian family with unequal power relations;
- poverty in Asian and African countries from where majority of forced marriage brides come; and
- desire for immigration sponsorship. (Among Muslims it is the cousins who are sponsored by marriage. Among other cultures it is relatives one acquires by marriage for example it is the parents or siblings of a son-in-law who are sponsored).
There is very little data on forced marriage in Western Canada. In fact this study is one of the very few studies of forced marriage in Canada. There is need for data collection of forced marriage: more research, follow up studies, documentation of information on forced marriage victims – (socio-economic status, country of origin and cultural background) and on the gaps in services for them.
For the delivery of services to the victims of forced marriage, no specific training programs were found to exist for service providers. Service providers in social services, settlement services, family services, law enforcement services and the professionals, who directly deal with cases and consequences of forced marriage, need specific training to address the problem of forced marriage. For example, many service providers may not know about the importance of counselling a young woman returning to Canada after forced marriage and what her specific needs are and how to address them. They need to learn about, what one respondent called “a holistic approach” to all the needs and problems of the victims.
Similarly, none of the stories except one involving murder, mentioned that the perpetrators were brought under law, or that justice was done to the victims of forced marriage. Some service providers feel that the perpetrators need to be brought to justice and there should be some way that forced marriage victims may be compensated. It may be possible in case of forced marriage to claim damages (from parents or spouse or a third party) for physical or psychological or financial stress or loss under tort law. There would be practical difficulties in doing so but it worth exploring if there can be a way around the difficulties.
The stories make it clear that it is women who are most vulnerable and victimized in forced marriage because of their low power and low value in the family. Men were also found to be coerced into forced marriage but they may not always be as vulnerable as women because they have more power in the family. So we conclude there is need to empower women through educational and counselling programs.
Based upon the estimate from service providers who are dealing with the incidence of forced marriage in Western Canada, our conclusion is that forced marriage is not sporadic in Western Canada. In answer to this question half of the respondents said it is “widespread” or “common” or “becoming common”. Several respondents said “I don’t know.” Hence, it is difficult to determine whether it is widespread in Western Canada, but the data do indicate it is not sporadic. (It is significant to note that in addition to the estimate of the interviewers, all those who heard about this investigation had a story to tell about forced marriage in Western Canada in all the three locations.)
The study shows that the true extent of the practice of forced marriage in Western Canada is not known. There is limited public awareness of it. So we conclude that although the issue of forced marriage has so far been given little attention by society it needs to be addressed. One respondent estimated that it will likely rise in the next 30 years due to the possibility and opportunity for sponsoring relatives through marriage.
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